The impact of group size on damaging behaviours, aggression, fear and stress in farm animals

T.B. Rodenburg, P. Koene

Research output: Contribution to journalArticleAcademicpeer-review

57 Citations (Scopus)

Abstract

The aim of this review is to discuss the impact of group size on damaging behaviours, aggression, fear and stress in farm animals and to identify housing- and management options that can help to reduce problems caused by suboptimal group sizes. Increasing group size was found to increase the risk of damaging behaviour, such as feather pecking in laying hens and vulva biting in sows. Aggression does not appear to be a problem in large groups, because dominance relationships in these groups are not based on individual recognition, but based on other signals such as body size, avoiding costly fights. There is evidence for increased fear and stress levels in large groups compared with small groups, but fearfulness is also strongly affected by type of housing. To minimise problems in large groups, is seems helpful to offer separate functional areas and to provide cover, reducing disturbance between animals. To minimise the risk of damaging behaviour, such as feather pecking in laying hens and tail biting in pigs, stimulating foraging, exploration and manipulation behaviour by providing sufficient substrate (straw, wood shavings and sand) offers perspective. Rearing the animals in a system which allows the development of all these behaviours is very important. Other solutions can be found in optimising the diet and offering extra foraging opportunities. Furthermore, genetic selection against damaging behaviour seems promising. In conclusion, group size mainly has an effect on damaging behaviour and fear and stress in pigs and poultry. The effect on aggressive behaviour is limited. To reduce damaging behaviour, fear and stress, it is important to provide a complex environment with ample behavioural opportunities and separate functional areas.
Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)205-214
JournalApplied Animal Behaviour Science
Volume103
Issue number3-4
DOIs
Publication statusPublished - 2007

Keywords

  • feather-pecking behavior
  • gallus-gallus-domesticus
  • open-field response
  • 2 different ages
  • laying hens
  • tonic immobility
  • phenotypic correlations
  • social discrimination
  • alternative systems
  • genetic-variation

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